The Korea Herald


[News Focus] Korea has 2nd-longest working hours in OECD

Koreans work longer than Japanese by 323 hours a year

By Kim Yon-se

Published : March 9, 2021 - 14:54

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The headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris (OECD) The headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris (OECD)

SEJONG -- South Korea’s working hours are still far longer than the average among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as of 2019.

In the French-based organization’s analysis of hours worked annually by its 35 members, Koreans ranked second. Of the 37 members, Colombia and Turkey were not included.

The OECD defined average annual hours worked as the total number of hours actually worked per year divided by the average number of people in employment per year.

Koreans worked 1,967 hours a year per employee in 2019, 241 hours more than the OECD average of 1,726 hours.

For comparison, the annual working hours of Koreans was 323 hours longer the hours worked in Japan, which tallied 1,644 hours on average.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald) (Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

The ranking comes despite efforts to help the country move to a lower spot on the list in recent years. Since 2017, the Moon Jae-in administration has been introducing the 52-hour workweek guideline on a gradual basis by payroll scale from the former 68-hour workweek.

As a side effect, however, local small businesses have protested the move, saying that the revised Labor Standards Act “is aggravating their workforce by creating shortage problems and undermining productivity.”

Some researchers raised the possibility that employees would be paid lower-than-expected severance pay due to the slashed workweeks.

In contrast, advocates highlighted the quality of life during weekends and wider job opportunities for more temporary workers.

Denmark, where many employees get off work around 4 p.m., posted the shortest hours of work at 1,380 hours.

Norway ranked second-lowest with 1,384 hours, followed by Germany with 1,386, the Netherlands with 1,434, Sweden with 1,452 and Iceland with 1,454.

Next on the list were Austria (1,501 hours), France (1,505), Luxembourg (1,506), the UK (1,538), Finland (1,540), Switzerland (1,557), Belgium (1,583), Slovenia (1,593) and Lithuania (1,635), Japan and Latvia (1,661).

Among English-speaking countries, the US and New Zealand posted relatively high working hours, with both tallying 1,779 hours. Figures for Australia and Canada were 1,712 and 1,670, respectively.

Only Mexico ranked above Korea among the 35 countries with 2,137 hours, while Greece, Chile and Israel ranked third, fourth and fifth.

South Korea -- despite the long working hours -- has been underperforming in the employment rate.

The nation recorded a 65.7 percent employment rate for people aged between 15-64, deemed the working age population, in the third quarter of 2020.

Korea far lagged compared to Asia-Pacific neighbors such as Japan at 77 percent, New Zealand at 76.2 percent and Australia at 72 percent.

Among the members ranked above Korea were Czech Republic (74.3 percent), Estonia (73 percent), Latvia (71.3 percent), Lithuania (70.6 percent), Slovenia (70.3 percent) and Hungary (69.9 percent).

In contrast, Korea posted a high percentage of temporary workers, 24.4 percent, of the total salaried workers in 2019.

The figure far surpassed the OECD average of 11.8 percent, the European Union average of 13.6 percent and Group of Seven average of 8.8 percent for the corresponding year.

By Kim Yon-se (